Bearing the name of her aunt, the greatest West Coast actress of the mid-19th century, Julia Dean, spent her childhood and early adolescence in Utah, not far from a famous vein of silver that also bore her name. In her teens she trained her dramatic skills as a vaudeville dramatic sketch artist, gradually working her way eastward as a sign-on in various touring companies, including that of an aging Joseph Jefferson.
Her New York debut took place in 1902, and she labored in a series of second tier roles with James O'Neill and William Brady before her portrayal of Anna Gray in "The Little Gray Lady" (1906) captured the critics' attention. A versatile actress rather than a personality, she could play hysterics in melodramas, female wits in drawing room comedies, poor girls, smitten gentry women, and creatures of repressed passion. Capable of a breadth of vocal expression as well as a rather experimental approach to gesture, she enjoyed uninterrupted success for seven years, particularly in plays written by George Broadhurst. Unfortunately none of these vehicles, despite a momentary popularity, had lasting merit.
By 1914's "Law of the Land," a Broadhurst play in which her character murders a sadistic husband, Dean's run of luck faltered. In 1915 she signed as a motion picture actress, and began a twenty-year career on the screen in a series of B movies, culminating in some 1940s horror classics. A great stage presence, she lacked throughout her career insight into what constituted a vehicle that might rise above conventional entertainment. David S. Shields/ALS